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Growing Up Crazy: Power Structures
In Religion, Sex, And Economics

By Peter Goodchild

18 September, 2006

If children today are "rude" and "irresponsible," perhaps they suspect they are being lied to. The prevailing myths of the western world are not conducive to the happiness of the average person. On the contrary, religion, sexual morality, economics, and politics form an intricate set of malignant power structures. Religion is the foundation for a superstitious view of morality and a general state of intellectual dullness; this ignorance in turn allows and often fosters the various master-slave relationships that constitute modern capitalism.


In the modern west there are two powerful world-views, the Christian and the scientific, yet few people have the ability to make a clear choice. And so if they are asked if they believe in God, they will reply, "No, but I believe in - well, some sort of spirit," or, "Well, sort of, I guess, but I don't go to church."

A Sort Of is hard to analyze, but the effort is worthwhile, because if Christianity is not the One True Religion, then many other questions must be reconsidered. Christianity does not just provide an object of worship; it also provides a cosmology (a design of time and space), a moral code (including fundamental reasons or motives for human behavior), and - closely related to the moral code - an eschatological design, a picture of where humans are going, both as individuals and as a race. Christian doctrine, in fact, claims to have all the answers to all the big questions, while modern science can offer only tentative answers to some relatively small questions. It is the immense scope of Christian thought that is critical. Christian doctrine was solidified many centuries ago, and the various waves of reform and "heresy" have never really displaced the set of beliefs established by about the fifth century. Nevertheless, what is not often realized is that even if they are fence-straddlers or non-Christians, most westerners are born into the Christian world-view to the same extent that a fish is born in water.

The vague "spirit" or Something-or-Other in which many modern westerners believe is hard to examine, but even the beliefs of someone who claims to be a Christian are not easy to analyze. The Christian set of beliefs is at least fifteen hundred years old, but any attempt to delineate those beliefs is complicated by the problem that Christianity, over the centuries, has broken up into so many separate churches. There are significant differences between Roman Catholicism and some of the more extreme Protestant groups. What, if anything, is the core of Christian belief? To answer that question, one might first think of examining the Bible. But the Bible as a dogma presents difficulties. In the first place, it is full of contradictions, beginning with the problem that God created the day before he created the sun, and going on for a thousand pages: the genealogies of Matthew and Luke do not agree with each other, for example. Secondly, the Bible is very long and wandering, and much of it is taken up with historical matters, prophecies, and so on. And thirdly, there are major differences between the doctrines of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament; trying to reconcile the two testaments would utterly distract anyone from the task of clarifying the elements of Christian doctrine.

However, it is curious that a great deal of present-day Christian doctrine, formally and informally, was solidified so long ago. (One could therefore marvel at the rapid flowering of Christian thought, or one could argue the contrary: that Christianity has been intellectually sterile for well over a thousand years.) Augustine's _City of God_ was finished in the year 426, and even in that work one can find so much that remains as general Christian doctrine today. Most importantly, for Augustine as for the modern Christian, God is no longer Yahweh, a minor Semitic spirit of the desert and the mountaintops; he is now regarded as omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent.

The question of why a benevolent and all-powerful God would allow the existence of suffering and evil is rather a puzzle for Augustine, but neither more so nor less so than after his time, and the various answers he puts forth are the same as those employed today: that people suffer because of their sins, or (if they are fairly sinless) because God is testing their faith; or that evil is an illusion; or that all the debits and credits of good and evil will be sorted out in the life to come. These various answers are mutually exclusive, but that does not seem to bother Augustine, and at one point (14.11) he manages to squeeze all but the "illusion" theory into a single brief chapter.

Another famous conundrum appears in _The City of God_: that of God's foreknowledge. If God knows all that is to come, and had that knowledge on the Day of Creation, then he must know (and have known) who would sin, when they would sin, how they would sin, and why they would sin. How can God punish people for their sins if the entire scenario was known by him long ago - and, more importantly, if the entire scenario is due to his act of creation? Theologians still ponder this matter, but again both the questions and (if any) the answers can already be found in Augustine. He attempts to show that there is no contradiction between God's foreknowledge and man's free will, but over several labored pages he really does not clarify the issue. When the water has become thoroughly muddy, he makes a brief announcement: ". . . Our main point is that, from the fact that to God the order of all things is certain, there is no logical deduction that there is no power in the choice of our will (5.9)." Augustine fares a little better with a second theory: that from God's perspective past, present, and future do not exist, only eternity, and so to speak of foreknowledge, and of time in general, is to misunderstand God's perspective.

Augustine is quite obsessed with sin. He never fails to remind his readers that the human race began sinning in the Garden of Eden and has been at it steadily ever since: ". . . Man, corrupt by choice and condemned by justice, has produced a progeny that is both corrupt and condemned" (13.14).

If it is true that westerners are still heavily influenced by Christian ways of thinking, then studying Christian doctrine is important. If Christianity is still part of this world, although hidden deep in human thought processes, then to study Christianity is not to study ancient history but to study the present.

The most important matter is the question of the existence of God. All of the famous arguments have ridiculously shaky logic. One of the most popular is based on the issue of "first cause": "Since all things have a cause, then the universe as a whole must have a cause, and we call that first cause God." The argument can be demolished in several ways. For example, one can say that the statement that "all things have a cause" is simply unproven: perhaps the universe has always existed; perhaps both time and space are circular (or shaped like a doughnut, or like a box of doughnuts, or anything else one cares to imagine), and in that sense lacking both beginning and end. One can also dismantle the argument from first cause by saying that if "all things" have a cause then God must have a cause.

Other arguments for the existence of God consist of variations on the theme of "design" or that of "natural law." My arm and hand are exactly the right length for scratching my posterior, and everything else in Nature is exactly right for whatever it happens to be doing, and therefore there must be a God who designed everything that way. No doubt the continual influence of Darwin has weakened most such arguments, and natural law in the depths of space is little more than natural statistics.

Academic Christianity and popular Christianity, however, are in many respects quite different. Most people who have strong Christian beliefs have little knowledge of theological arguments, and equally little interest in them. If a Christian is asked why he believes in God, he is not likely to present a theological argument of the sort beloved by medieval scholars. On the contrary, he is more likely to say, "I feel him in my heart," "I have seen God," "I have met God," or, "God has entered into me."

If one were to elicit further comment on the matter of "God in one's heart," it would seem that the belief is that one can perceive God through another means than the five senses, but that it is a direct experience of God, and not a matter of logical inference or a process of reasoning. Belief based on "direct experience" could be conveniently pigeonholed as "mysticism," and there is a long and complex history to mystical Christianity. But mysticism, or rather the popular belief in direct perception, is not simply another form of argument.

The problem with mystical experience is that it may be related to hallucinations, dreams, and other forms of illusion, rather than to anything that we should call "knowledge": a sensation is not in itself the knowledge of an external fact. As people pass from infancy to adulthood, they learn to apply certain tests to sensations to distinguish the real from the illusory. The mystic, however, ignores such tests.

Of course, religion is many things and serves many purposes. To a large extent, religion is merely an _effect_, not a cause. The essence of religion is the belief in the "beyond," some sort of world other than that of the senses. The "beyond" provides a setting for what is sometimes called "the problem of meaning," the search for reasons. Why is there so much corruption and brutality? Why do some people have everything, while others have nothing? Why is life so full of uncertainty? Why are pain and death so prevalent? Religion answers those questions by setting the material world in a supernatural matrix that is more organized and more hopeful. In that sense, religion could be compared to philosophy. To the extent that religion serves as mere effect rather than cause, one might say that it is nothing to worry about. If my neighbor goes to church on Sundays, or believes that the Earth was created only a few thousand years ago, while I believe otherwise, what difference does it make?

But religion is not just an effect; it can also be a _cause_ of significant human events, and it is then that it becomes dangerous. Religion-as-philosophy cannot be regarded as innocuous, because that belief eventually leads to the construction of temples and similar structures, people gather in these buildings periodically, and a social unit is formed, a club, a religious organization. Such an organization is then likely to impede necessary changes to society (e.g., reform of the class structure), to prohibit the expansion of knowledge (Galileo's case is one of the best known), to prevent reform of moral codes, to cause dissension within and among societies (the major religions have been disseminated largely at the point of a sword), and to stunt the emotional and intellectual maturity of its adherents.

Religion is most harmful when it ceases to be new and revolutionary, and becomes the official dogma of the state; Constantine knew what he was. Christianity and Confucianism are more similar to each other than we might imagine: they both fix each human being somewhere in the Great Chain of Being that leads from the peasant to the emperor to God. Whether the individual wants to be part of that chain, however, is a question that is generally ignored.


What is the nature of sexual desire? Why is so much of sexual behavior commonly regarded as "immoral"? And how could one establish a more rational basis for sexual ethics? The questions are many, and the answers are few - because the questions have rarely been asked. One of the most obvious questions is: Why is there is in both men and women such an immense ambivalence between the desire for one partner and the desire for many - or, to use rather value-laden terminology, between fidelity (monogamy) and promiscuity? On the one hand, most people want a relationship to last forever, and only a wedding is a grand enough statement of that desire. Yet how many people can say they never look at other people without a quickening of the pulse?

The sexual behavior of human beings, like that of other animals, can be understood in terms of the theory of natural selection. Within each species of animal, there are distinct patterns of sexual behavior. Each species of primate has its own patterns, each species of bird or fish has its own patterns. Human sexual behavior has its own distinct forms. Within each species, some individuals are sexually successful, while others must stand on the sidelines and watch. With most species, the sexual struggle is undergone with tooth and claw, or the threat of using such. But with humans the competition involves more subtle, more culturally determined ways of establishing power and status: moral diatribe replaces biting and scratching.

There have been various theories about the origin of human sexual taboos - using the word "taboos" to mean "traditional and nonrational (unconsciously formulated) prohibitions." It has often been said that there is a relationship between sexual ethics and social structure. It has been noted, for example, that there may be a positive correlation between the strictness of a society's sexual taboos and that same society's concern with paternity and inheritance. The theory is usually formulated as the statement that a woman's fidelity was, in origin, a contract made with a man in exchange for his protection of her and her children.

But that correlation between sexual strictness and concerns over paternity does not seem to be fundamental to sexual morality. In the first place, men are quite capable of loving children they have not sired; in fact, why should men ever base marriage on the relatively trivial question of a genetic tie? In addition, it was not until the nineteenth century that scientists proved that sexual intercourse causes pregnancy, and that a single pregnancy can be caused by only a single man; why should primitive societies be more sure of the theory than modern scientists? There have been societies in recent times - in the Trobriand Islands, for example - who were quite unaware of the fact of biological fatherhood. In general, it seems that concern over biological fatherhood would be a rather shaky basis on which to establish a theory of the origins of sexual morality.

A second theory has greater plausibility: there may be a correlation between sexual strictness and the extent to which a society is divided into an upper and a lower class. But even that correlation is far from universal and therefore seems not to be fundamental. The present-day United States has enormous social disparity (the gap between the rich and the poor), and yet sexual morality is now somewhat loose. Conversely, the Sioux Indians of the Plains, with a rather egalitarian society, punished adulterers (especially female) with great severity.

One is left with a much simpler and more general theory. Sexual taboos are merely various ways of dividing up the "sexual property": women. Monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, exogamy, endogamy, the elaborate questions of incest and adultery - all these social patterns are just variations on the rules of which men are allowed to sleep with which women.

Sexual sharing may prevail in one society, whereas in another the norm may be possessiveness. If possessiveness and jealousy are regarded as virtues, however, the laws of arithmetic cannot be avoided: the result is monogamy, permanent pair-bonds. Each person half-consciously hopes the law of monogamy will apply only to other people, but the result is a universal deadlock.

In a primitive society, it may be polygamy for the strong, monogamy for the weak, whereas in our society it is monogamy for the old, abstinence for the young. But to say that any pattern is more "natural" or more "normal" than another is to make an unprovable statement. On the contrary, a little reflection on the way men shuffle women around in the name of various forms of "morality," as if these women were pieces on a chessboard, might make any system appear rather sadly comical. The absurdity is only increased when such rules are regarded as the commands of God, as if he would spend eternity worrying about the interconnections of penises and vaginas that he himself is supposed to have created in the first place.

In _Patterns of Sexual Behavior_, Ford and Beach divided societies into the "restrictive" and the "permissive." Out of a sample of 185 societies for which evidence was available, the authors found that 156 allow polygamy, although even in polygamous societies the majority of people are monogamous. Of those same 185 societies, the majority either approve of premarital sex or do not seriously censure it.

The authors also analyzed 139 societies for which there is evidence on the topic of extramarital relationships. Of that number, 54 approve of extramarital relationships. The other 85 societies disapprove of extramarital relationships, but the prohibitions are usually much stricter for women than for men. (The double standard, in other words, is very common. Paradoxically, of course, the double standard tends to result in restrictions for men also, because in such societies the wives and daughters are closely guarded.) Out of those 85 societies that disapprove of extramarital sex, however, there are at least 17 in which extramarital liaisons are very common and not subject to serious punishment.

Ford and Beach found that whether societies are restrictive or permissive, there are always certain prohibitions that apply to the choice of partners. Every society has rules regarding (but not necessarily prohibiting) incest or endogamy, for example, although there is great variability in such rules. Even sex between parents and children is not universally condemned: there are societies in which parents masturbate their own small children to please them or just to quiet them, although there are prohibitions as the children grow older. In other societies, there are situations in which father-daughter or brother-sister relations may be permitted, particularly for members of the ruling class. (Societies that permit incest should hardly be surprising; according to L. David Mech, most mating of wolves seems to take place between litter mates or between parents and offspring.) On the other hand, there are societies where the forbidden partners may compose half of the society, even if a person is permitted great freedom with the other members.

Sexual competition, like any other form of human competition, cannot be completely ended. One could even argue, of course, that competition, the Darwinian struggle for survival, maintains the vigor of the species. It is possible, however, to stop lying about the nature of our moral codes. It does not require a great deal of mental effort to realize that most "morality" is nothing more than that competitiveness, thinly disguised. A second but equally important form of dishonesty consists in the fact that almost no effort is made to devise more rational codes of sexual behavior. Parents do not need to hand their children the same old silly fairy tales, which no real fairy would be caught dead in. Much of the process of living consists of giving up various illusions, and in every generation people waste far too much time on the process of maturation. Children spend their early years struggling through the philosophical equivalent of the Early Stone Age, and by the time they are old enough to know the answers they are likely to have forgotten the questions.


In modern times, the main problem with "work" is that so many people have sunk into a life of alienated labor: the gap between "what people do" and "what people need" has become unbridgeable. Human beings are no longer in touch with Mother Nature or even with human nature. It should not be surprising if they feel that the locus of power is no longer within them.

All human beings need to refrain from "working" for a living. "Work," as it is generally known, is a complete denial of the liberal education that people struggle for in their youth. The modern corporation has no room for liberal thinking; on the contrary, to work for a living means either to be a slave, stuck in an entry-level position forever, or to climb the corporate ladder and be a sycophant, a hypocrite, and a robot, losing all touch with one's soul, constantly trying to please a boss. The boss is in turn dehumanized by those on the next-higher level of authority. What a contradiction most people endure: they pay lip service to democracy on a political level, yet they spend eight hours a day in an economic environment that is totally undemocratic!

One of the most famous champions of the work ethic was Benjamin Franklin, with his proverb, "Time is money." What Franklin meant, unfortunately, is that time - one's life - must never cease to be anything but the pursuit of money. Money must always be pursued, never merely enjoyed.

Where do the problems of modern "work" come from? Well, partly from the fact that there is no intelligent life on earth. Like so many other species, the human species expands and consumes until its members starve and die. The three basic problems of human life have still not been solved: overpopulation, over-consumption of resources, and destruction of the environment. As a result, the competition for survival is intense, and for most people life is just a long stretch of drudgery followed by an ignoble death.

The person who can best provide an understanding of the nature of work is not really Marx, but Darwin - although what is involved is cultural, not genetic evolution. It is the intense struggle for survival, the intense struggle by each human against other humans, that leaves people cursed with having to work and work, until everything before their eyes is just a gray blur. No child can imagine the situation, no child can imagine that for ten thousand mornings an alarm clock will drive him or her out of a warm bed and out into the cold predawn streets. But that is exactly what happens to almost all human beings, until the Angel of Death has mercy upon them.

A Darwinian struggle for survival, an eternal competition against our neighbors, is the first and greatest commandment. This planet is only eight thousand miles wide, but we are convinced that everything we see or touch must be made bigger, faster, and more powerful. If the television commercials allow a flickering image of lounge chairs, cool drinks, and palm-sheltered beaches, our minds are in no danger of corruption, and for civilized man a vacation is no more than a financial bloodletting. Certainly no one who wears a necktie can feel anything but vaguely cheated by the two weeks of a holiday. After the first few days of trying to enjoy a vacation, one can see why Thoreau said (in the second chapter of _Walden_), "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. . . ."

It is sad to see people who have no income at all, but it is perhaps sadder to see young people grabbing at "high tech" jobs, thinking that in that way they can protect themselves from the storm of laissez-faire capitalism. No matter how many hours one spends in front of a mirror, perfecting one's hairstyle and one's buzzwords, it is just not possible to turn oneself into an adequate piece of machinery, not when the machine is really designed to make money for people who sit in the back seats of limousines with tinted windows. Even if one could become that ideal piece of machinery, one would not be happy. Such "ambitious" young people may be losing touch with the notions of dignity, honor, and self-respect.

It is misleading to talk about the "daily grind" when the grind is not "daily" but eternal. In fact, the grind is almost everything: one's daily job takes up more time that any other part of the twenty-four hour cycle, and certainly more time than any other phase of one's life. Perhaps some well-paid industrial psychologists have looked into the question of making the grind even more pervasive. (For those who have jobs, of course - for a large number of people, ironically, there is the vast emptiness of unemployment.) If the research and development of sleep were ever left to large corporations, they would do their best to reduce human slumber to zero. After all, sleep is a big waste of time, a third of a human life, and that time could be devoted to increasing production of goods and services, increasing the Gross Domestic Product, increasing corporate profits.

The only answer to the global economy is the local economy. The unasked-for global community should be balanced by the local community: the band or village. Every time people produce their own goods and services, they are striking three blows against corporate feudalism: they are not increasing the income of a CEO in New York, they are no longer alienated from their own labor, and they cannot be laid off as redundant. Of course, they will not want to reduce themselves to an utterly Paleolithic style of life, so they should trade their goods and services with other people in that local community: turnips for blankets, pottery for furniture.

Human beings need the kind of work that does not require them to sacrifice their dignity or their self-esteem. They do not need masters, because they can be their own masters. They do not need to be slaves, and they do not have to possess the mentality of slaves, thinking always of somewhere to hide, thinking always that sleep is the ultimate goal. They need to live on their own land, to work their own land, to watch the wind-stirred grain turning to gold under the summer sun.


Ford, Clellan Stearns, and Frank Ambrose Beach. _Patterns of Sexual Behavior_. New York: Harper, 1951.

Harris, Marvin. _Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came from, Where We Are Going_. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Kinietz, W. Vernon. _The Indians of the Western Great Lakes 1615-1760_. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan P, 1965.

Martin, Hans-Peter, and Harald Schumann. _The Global Trap: Civilization & the Assault on Democracy & Prosperity. Trans_. Patrick Camiller. Montreal: Black Rose, 1997.

Maslow, Abraham. _Motivation and Personality_. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Mech, L. David. _The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species_. New York: Natural History, 1970.

O'Dea, Thomas, and Janet O'Dea Aviad. _The Sociology of Religion_. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliff, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966.

Posner, Richard A. _Sex and Reason_. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1992.

Ridley, Matt. _The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature_. New York: Macmillan, 1994

Schor, Juliet B. _The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure_. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Smith, George H. _Atheism: The Case against God_. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus, 1989

Chicago Review Press has published Peter Goodchild's _Survival Skills of the North American Indians_, _Raven Tales_, and _The Spark in the Stone_. He has an M.A. in English from the University of Toronto. For ten years he was a teacher in both English as a second language and computer skills; two of those years were spent in Japan. He now owns and manages a market garden in Irondale, Ontario, where he is involved in issues of self-sufficiency and localized economy. He can be reached at:









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